In the last few months the Chinese government has announced that we are on the verge of attaining a 30-year objective of spending 4 percent of GDP on education. Given expectations for continued GDP growth, this points to further increases in budgets for universities and other forms of postsecondary education. It would be idle for me, situated in Tsinghua University, an institution that has benefited greatly from government support, to deny that sense of being in the right place at the right time. It would, though, be equally false to claim that Chinese higher education faces no challenges. Our system, in keeping with our national development as a whole, remains that of an emerging, rather than a fully developed, market. While that 4 percent expenditure marks the attainment of a long-cherished objective, it is still less than the average spent by OECD members on education (5.9 percent). While GDP growth, stalled in many other countries, is projected to continue in China, it is unlikely to be at the headlong rates of the recent past. The most recent economic data for China seem to indicate a slowdown.
The extent to which our experience echoes that of other nations was made clear to me by participation in the Emerging Markets Symposium, based at Green Templeton College, Oxford, earlier this year. It brought together 40 to 50 authoritative and influential leaders from governments, the public and private sectors, and academe from around the world to discuss common themes and concerns in higher education. The outcome of the discussions was a comprehensive set of recommendations for the future of higher education in emerging-market nations. Not all are equally applicable to ever country. China’s sheer size and distinctive history will always make it stand out among other nations. But there is much in the recommendations covering such issues as governance, finance, quality, and access that has a distinct resonance. In particular China can identify with the arguments that “tertiary education is a condition of sustained economic growth” and that “human potential in emerging markets is vastly untapped.” Among the great challenges facing the university sector in China is meeting the ever-growing demand for quality education. While we can point to growth at both undergraduate and graduate level in recent years, much of that demand remains unsatisfied, particularly in quality terms.
One reason for this is the challenge to maintain quality in the face of rapid expansion. Another is the mismatch between regional demand and regional supply. In spite of the strong role government has played in our sector, the distribution of higher-education institutions is highly skewed in China. Universities are heavily concentrated in the main cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, and in provincial capitals. This has a number of damaging effects. Not least of the roles of universities in emerging markets is as engines of local economic growth and suppliers of the skilled workforce – in both the public and private sectors – necessary to make that growth sustainable. It means that, lacking universities, many second – and third-tier cities also miss out on these benefits. Potential students from these regions are also at a disadvantage in the national entrance examination because of the lower quality of their primary and secondary schooling. As an institution, Tsinghua University has tried to counter this by admitting some students from low-achieving areas with somewhat lower examination scores, but this can only be done on a comparatively small scale. An additional problem is that those students who are able to go to major cities to study are unlikely to return because opportunities are scarce in their hometowns. All of this serves to widen already huge social and economic inequalities and, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we are as a society still very concerned by social equity.
One of the strongest recommendations of the symposium was that “all students pay at least part of the cost of tertiary education by borrowing and/or earning.” That is already largely the case in China, but it should be balanced by the consideration that access to higher education should be “open to all qualified students without regard to family circumstances or financial capacity.” This is very hard to achieve unless we have the adequate student financing mechanisms also called for. China has been developing a national student loan system since the 1990s, but such mechanisms take time to fully develop to the extent needed. Another challenge is related to globalization. Many Chinese students now choose to study abroad, which is both a comment on the options available at home and reflection of the tastes of our newly enriched middle-class. To have a child educated in the United States or some other developed country is a potent status symbol that many can readily afford. So, Chinese universities find themselves in a globalized competition for both students and staff. This is not something we should shy away from. The last thing China or its universities need is a renewed bout of isolationism – we have not rejoined the world and its mainstream intellectual currents in order to retreat as soon as it presents us with challenges. However, this trend does add urgency for Chinese universities to improve their quality and governance. One very clear benefit from the global movement of academic staff has been the extent to which scientists returning from study or work abroad bring with them an international network of contacts and collaborators. This is reflected in the global range of co-authors now associated with their publications. This sort of “brain circulation” is only to be welcomed.
One issue, clearly indicated in the symposium report, is that of academic pay. Philip Altbach’s research has shown Chinese academic salaries trailing way behind those in developed countries. There are, of course, many ways in which academics can increase their inadequate pay by consulting or research for the private sector, but this unavoidably distracts their focus from academic duties. The government has attempted to address this. Programs have been designed to attract high quality staff, both Chinese and international, from abroad. This has had some effect, but is of limited benefit outside the higher-ranked institutions. A broader-reaching solution is needed. Similarly to persuade students to stay in China, we need to offer them more – better courses and also jobs that will allow them to use the skills they have learnt through study. Progress has been made in curriculum development, with professional associations enjoying a greater input into graduate qualifications such as the MBA and MPA, but there is also an important institutional dimension. Here again, the symposium document offers part of a possible solution when it calls for “diverse institutions that match supply and demand.”
While the Chinese system is not so heavily micro-managed as outsiders may imagine, there is a certainly a need to give universities greater autonomy in which to develop distinctive missions and through this offer students a greater range of possibilities than they enjoy at the moment.
These responses to globalization would be of greatest benefit to a “squeezed middle” of middle-ranking institutions. The highest-ranked institutions like Tsinghua are, as various international rankings show, well equipped to compete. There is much to be said for China having unquestionably world-class universities, and I certainly won’t deny that seeing my own university so well regarded globally is gratifying. But this should not be our main priority. The symposium report is right when it warns against pursuing prestige and rankings for their own sake. Broader priorities and a wider range of interests must be served, both in China and across the range of emerging markets.
By Jeffrey R. Young. Since the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University unveiled their plan to create a platform for free online courses called edX, more than 120 other colleges and universities around the world have expressed interested in joining in. Today leaders of the effort announced that they’ve added the University of California at Berkeley as a partner, and that more institutions will eventually be admitted to the exclusive group.
While MIT and Harvard have both committed $30-million each to the project, Berkeley will not bring any money to the table. Instead, it will contribute technology—specifically, a new online-education platform that engineers at the university had already been working on, says John Wilton, Berkeley’s vice chancellor. The university will also teach two free courses through edX starting in the fall: one on artificial intelligence and another on “software as a service.”
Berkeley will also take a leadership role in edX, agreeing to chair the “X University Consortium,” a new governing body for the project.
“We really want to expand and add universities,” said Anant Agarwal, who leads the edX project and who is director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “Berkeley is the first one, the first of many.” He would not say how many universities would be added, however, or how soon new members will join. “You should think of edX as a not-for-profit start-up,” he added. “We are gearing up and trying to ramp up as a start-up as fast as we can go.”
The business plan for edX is similar to that of Coursera, a for-profit start-up that has signed deals with more than a dozen highly selective universities—meaning many key details remain undecided. The only source of revenue planned for edX so far is to charge students who successfully complete the courses a small fee for certificates. But leaders of the effort say they may also offer services to help employers use the courses to recruit new talent. EdX has won major donations and grant support, however. Officials announced today that an MIT alumnus, Philippe P. Laffont, founder of Coatue Management LLC, and a Harvard alumnus, Jonathan Grayer, former chairman and CEO of Kaplan Inc., have both made gifts to support the effort, though the amounts were not released. Last month the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $1-million grant to support the project as well.
Mr. Agarwal stressed that the long-term goal is to make the free courses self-sustaining. “We are talking to several other foundations, but I think you have to become self-sustaining,” he said. “No foundation wants to fund you forever.”
MIT has faced challenges in figuring out how to pay for its pioneering OpenCourseWare effort to give away materials from hundreds of its courses online, a project that is now more than a decade old. One key difference between the edX project and for-profit companies offering free courses is that edX leaders say the software they build to offer their courses will be open source, so that anyone else can use it free and help develop the code. “The open-source platform will allow all of us to contribute to the platform and not have to worry too much about who owns the intellectual property—it’s going to be shared,” Mr. Agarwal said.
George Siemens, a pioneer of offering free open courses who is a leader of Athabasca University’s Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute, sees the open-software aspect of edX as “one of the biggest benefits” of the project. “They’re not just worried about growing their brands, but they’re making something that others can use,” he said. He said he has been surprised by how rapidly major universities are moving to offer free open courses, often called MOOCs, or massive open online courses. “I can’t recall a time when universities at one moment have responded en masse as aggressively and as collaboratively,” he said.
What leads me to suggest using a corporate lens to look at global universities? I’ve heard Qantas talk about forming alliances with other airlines, a process akin to creating university consortia; tried to understand how the University of Melbourne snagged a partnership with IBM; and been fascinated by the strategies of companies like Johnson & Johnson to recruit the best university graduates. Universities might learn from multinational corporations in a few areas in particular, including employer branding, human resources, and partnership management. Lastly, universities can learn from corporations how to more effectively connect with them. Obvious, but often not done.
In a presentation I saw last year, Johnson & Johnson representatives talked about how they had taken a look at the companies that students in different parts of the world aspire to work for. In China it was Procter & Gamble. In India it was Google; in Japan, Sony. Johnson & Johnson then thought about the “employment life cycle,” from when students might first hear about a company to after they are hired. Companies such as Johnson & Johnson often conduct research in two phases. The first phase is to find out how their organization is perceived. The second phase is to find out how positive perceptions can be reinforced or shifted. The process isn’t, ideally, about spin but about discovering and communicating an institution’s core values. Those values can be ferreted out by research, which universities should be good at.
An organization, whether it is a company or a university, can identify two arrows. One is what people are looking for in jobs, and the other is what the institution has to offer. An organization that can find the intersection of those arrows can build powerful, long-term success. Universities, like companies, may need to make the transformation from being a national brand to being a global one. Siemens, once thought of as a German company, now says that it is “a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering, operating in the industry, energy, and health-care sectors.”
Global brands can be adapted to various local markets, while still staying globally integrated. I just gave away a collection of international Coke cans, consisting of many different shapes and bearing Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish words, among others. But they were all instantly identifiable as Coke cans. As some universities seek to be global, they often emphasize that a degree in one country will be exactly identical to a degree in another. I’m left wondering if a little more flexibility might be in order. Human-resources departments may need to rise in importance as universities seek to become more global. The complexities of managing different people in different places are high, and human-resources departments, which are often simply the servants of academic departments at many universities, need to acquire and share their expertise on how to manage a mix of expatriates and local workers in a variety of countries.
I was intrigued by a recent Wall Street Journal article headlined “Don’t Unpack That Suitcase.” It suggested that multiple overseas assignments give rising corporate managers more chances to be promoted: “Time spent overseas develops their ability to manage complex, interconnected enterprises—skills that just can’t be developed back at headquarters or in one brief foreign assignment.”
I’m less sure that American universities share the sentiment that overseas experience improves managers. Lastly, I think that universities can learn from corporations about how to better manage partnerships. It’s a bit of a cliché, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say it: Universities approaching partners need to think of programs that would benefit both parties. Approaching a computer company and asking for money or machines to take back to the university doesn’t work for the company, without some benefit being offered. Companies have their own problems to solve. Partnership management is a profession, not just the avocation of people working in other jobs. Universities need to make it someone’s job to manage international partnerships, to sustain relationships, to make sure the institution and its partners are getting what they want from relationships.
If the partnership managers are not part of the senior leadership team, senior managers may not hear directly about how global operations or partnerships are going. The international director doesn’t get quick decisions and can’t be responsive to international partners. Decisions get slowed down, partners lose interest and end relationships. My goal here has been to suggest that when universities overcome their natural resistance to comparing themselves to multinational corporations, they can think in new and useful ways. And learning to think differently is, after all, what universities are all about.
Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from a speech on “President’s Day” at the annual meeting of Nafsa: Association of International Educators.
By Jeff Selingo. The battle for the future of higher ed has landed—at least for the time being—on a concept few in academe had even heard of a year ago: the Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC. The idea of offering free courses online to tens of thousands of students has suddenly become the latest, greatest way to “fix” higher ed, promoted by education-technology entrepreneurs and bemoaned by traditional academics.
Some of the country’s richest and most elite universities, including Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford, have been at the forefront of experiments with the format, and their moves have led some in higher ed to wonder if they’re missing out on something big if they don’t join in. That seemed to be the thinking of some members of the governing board at the University of Virginia last month, when they ousted the president, Teresa A. Sullivan, for not moving fast enough to position the university for the future (only to reinstate her two weeks later). In the midst of the turmoil at the University of Virginia, I suggested in a New York Times op-ed that colleges could take advantage of MOOC’s, perhaps by “ultimately shedding their lowest-quality courses (and their costs) and replacing them with the best courses offered by other institutions through loose federations or formal networks.” I received plenty of criticism about that column from faculty and higher-ed administrators. Perhaps the most thoughtful response came in a blog post on Innovations last week by Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies and law at the University of Virginia.
As Vaidhyanathan correctly pointed out, I don’t see MOOC’s as a panacea. But unlike Vaidhyanathan, I can imagine how the format might reduce costs, improve learning, increase access, and maybe produce revenue for a few universities. The problem is that MOOC’s probably can’t do all four things at any one institution—and that’s the reason they are not “the” solution to the myriad of problems facing higher ed. We often refer to “American higher education” as if it’s a monolith, but the fact of the matter, as we well know, is that we don’t have a single American higher-education “system.” The issues facing the University of Virginia are quite different from those facing, say, the 31 colleges that make up the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. I picked that public system because I heard recently that it spends some 25 percent of its budget on remedial education. My bet is that the University of Virginia spends nothing, or close to nothing, on getting its students ready for college work.
As more MOOC’s are developed, institutions with high remedial costs could use them to replace—or at least to supplement—their noncredit-bearing courses. A common theme in the comments on the Vaidhyanathan post was whether MOOC’s should be considered “education” or just “information.” The assumption seemed to be that the current methods of teaching on college campuses were working just fine. Again, maybe so at the University of Virginia, where some of the best scholars are teaching some of the best students. But we know from a 2011 book, Academically Adrift, that American higher education is “characterized by limited or no learning” for a large proportion of students.
“You can’t assume that in sending off a student to a typical college that they’re going to get a rigorous education,” one of the book’s authors, Richard Arum, told me recently. “You can’t trust these institutions to police themselves.”
Taken alone, the format of MOOC’s might not improve learning, but coupled with some face-to-face teaching, they could be a worthy experiment. Various studies have found that students who have taken all or part of a class online performed better, on average, than those who took the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction. MOOC’s might also play a role in improving access and graduation rates, and ultimately in reaching President Obama’s goal of making the United States the nation with the highest portion of college graduates by 2020. The University of Virginia’s six-year graduation rate is 93 percent—again, an outlier when the average rate of four-year public universities in the United States is 56 percent. While MOOC’s don’t carry credit, they can be used as part of an evaluation to gain credit through prior learning. Students who receive credits for prior learning are 2½ times as likely to graduate as those who do not earn such credits, according to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
One criticism of MOOC’s seems credible, at least for now: There is no business plan to produce revenue. A few moneymaking ideas have been floated, from charging for the credential to selling access to corporate recruiters.
I took a MOOC from Coursera this past spring, and recently received an e-mail message about study groups and social meet-ups planned for the courses being offered this fall. Right now it’s free to join those face-to-face meetings, but I could imagine some older students like myself, who are no longer in a college setting, paying for the chance to meet others in their courses or for an opportunity to meet the professor.
Like so many debates about the future of higher ed, the discussion about MOOC’s has quickly devolved into an all-or-nothing argument. The format must offer answers to all of higher ed’s problems or be as good as or better than what we do currently, critics say, or it’s a failure itself. But thousands of students around the world have completed the MOOC’s offered so far, with many of them performing as well as students on the residential home campuses where the courses were created.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the students who take MOOC’s and their reasons for doing so, but the format has clearly captivated a group of learners, and there must be something of value we can take from that in navigating the future of higher ed.
At the heart of the work of Siemens and Downes is connectedness. Both have written importantly about the social character of learning, the way that actual learning means entering a community of persons asking tough questions, with a shared passion, etc. Relatedly, both insist that knowledge is not “a thing to be acquired,” but an activity. As any working researcher knows, academic, professional, medical, industrial, and pharmaceutical knowledge doesn’t stand still–it moves with the community of researchers, with vortices of conflict, ebb tides, and occasional tsunamis of unreason.
Good MOOC’s, in their view, foreground and sustain the social dimension of learning and active practices, i.e., knowledge production rather than knowledge consumption. More...
Oxford University students will no longer have to wear gender-specific academic clothing after concerns it was unfair to the transgender community.
It will mean men can attend formal occasions in skirts and stockings and women in suits and bow ties. The new rules come after a motion by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer society (LGBTQ Soc) was passed by the students' union earlier this year.
The changes, to start from 4 August, have now been agreed by the university. Jess Pumphrey, LGBTQ officer, said the change would make a number of students' exam experience significantly less stressful.
Under the old laws on academic clothing - known as subfusc - male students were required to wear a dark suit and socks, black shoes, a white bow tie and a plain white shirt and collar under their black gowns. Female students had to wear a dark skirt or trousers, a white blouse, black stockings and shoes and a black ribbon tied in a bow at the neck.
If a transgender student wanted to wear subfusc of the opposite sex they had to seek special dispensation from university proctors, who had the power to punish those who breached the rules.
An Oxford University spokesman said: "The regulations have been amended to remove any reference to gender, in response to concerns raised by Oxford University Student Union that the existing regulations did not serve the interests of transgender students."
Now a similar effort to Freedom University, as it was called, is going national.
A project called National Dream University, mirrored after the Georgia effort, is being formed in California. It’s a collaboration between the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Labor Research and Education and the National Labor College.
It aims to offer online courses for college credit to young immigrant and labor rights activists who want to attend college.
The project was inspired by an effort last year in Georgia to reach out to undocumented immigrant students barred from area universities and President Obama's decision to grant temporary work permits to many young undocumented immigrants.
In Georgia, five professors offered to teach a rigorous, once-a-week seminar that would have mirrored courses taught at academically-rigorous Georgia schools. It was meant for Georgia students who graduated from high school but barred from attending a top state school because of Georgia state education policy, which was later dropped. More...
By Graeme Paton, Education Editor. Rising numbers of students from crisis-hit European countries are flocking to British universities to flee economic chaos at home, according to research.
Demand for courses abroad has soared by more than 150 per cent among students from Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, figures suggest.
By Rahul Choudaha. MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – have been in the news for their potential to be revolutionary within the learning space, with significant interest coming from outside the US. For instance, nearly three-quarters of Coursera’s course-takers are international students. Could the growth of MOOCs then lead to the decline of branch campuses?
Branch campus unsustainability
While there are successful examples of foreign branch campuses like the University of Nottingham in China and Malaysia, there have also been embarrassing failures, such as Michigan State University in Dubai and the University of New South Wales in Singapore. More recently, we have been observing a new wave of interest from big names like New York University in Abu Dhabi and Duke University in China. Overall, a growth in demand for branch campuses exists. However, this growth may be unsustainable.
Philip Altbach, in “The Branch Campus Bubble?”, highlights various issues relating to enrolment, academics and funding, which put the quality and sustainability of branch campuses under the scanner.